They say the best place to hide a body is on page two of Google. That demonstrates just how unlikely users are to scroll past the page-fold, let alone make the massive effort to click to page two.
Over the past six months, it has become increasingly clear that Google is intent on maximizing its extraction of brand marketing budgets by pushing organic results further down the page.
It’s a tactic already successfully employed across a variety of digital platforms – get advertisers and publishers comfortable then change the ecosystem to make it increasingly difficult to reach the audience without paying for the privilege.
What we’re seeing are the monetisation strategies of the new economy.
Many of the changes to the way search results are displayed have happened with barely a murmur outside of the SEM community. In isolation, they appear like pretty simple and innocuous changes. Put them together and they spell a big change for marketers, with some significant impacts.
Right-Hand ads banished from Desktop SERPs
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Back in February Google made change to the Search Engine Results Pages (what SEM boffins like to call the SERPs) that went almost unnoticed outside of sites like Searchengineland.com – killing off the ads on the right hand side of desktop results pages, and reorganising results to include 4 paid results (ads) above the organic results.
At the time, many ‘search-spotters’ posited that the changes were commercially driven, but could equally have been the desire of Google to align desktop and mobile results pages (mobile results did not have ads on the right-hand side).
Image Focused Ad Formats
In March, Google announced they were rolling out a new ad format for Auto advertisers in the US which allow brands to include large-format images, performance details, and links to the manufacturer’s website, nearby dealers and other information.
These auto ads are effectively a Google version of Facebook Canvas, available to users straight from their Google search. There’s a chance this is a result of Google looking to improve the user experience of search, delivering as much information within a search result.
More likely it’s a play for the big brand dollars in one of the world’s most competitive categories. Either way, the impact on the position of the organic result is significant.
Extended text ads
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In May, Google rolled out expanded text ads to brands and effectively doubled the real estate available for each advertiser. With up to four ads on each SERP, that’s almost eight times more real estate than may have been the case just six months earlier!
Double the real estate means double the space on page one taken up by advertising.
Green ‘ad’ identification
Add to that when, in June this year, Google changed the colour of the ‘ad’ tag on paid results from vibrant yellow, to the same green as the un-clicked link. Now you might ask ‘so what?’ But, despite Google’s denial, there has been much speculation that the use of the same colour as the link makes it much less likely for users to visually distinguish between the ‘ad’ ident, and the link.
It’s widely accepted that green is the easiest colour for the human eye to process, and is associated with peace and tranquility. The use of this colour is unlikely to be a random choice by Google, and some have suggested it’s an effort to get users, most of who prefer organic results, to mistake paid ads for organic.
Mobile table extensions
Roll on into July and Google made price research on mobile even easier with their Mobile Table Extensions allowing brands to include prices and product features in paid results. It’s immediately obvious to even the non-SEM initiated that these extensions take up a massive amount of real estate on mobile SERPs.
Much of the discussion around these extensions has been the increased importance of top rank, which requires a higher PPC bid among other things (such as quality score etc.). The brands with the deepest SEM pockets are likely to benefit the most.
It all equals more money flowing into the Google coffers
Over a relatively short space of time, Google has completely re-imagined the Search Engine Results Pages. These changes are the result of paid results being the clear and obvious priority for Google over any desire to have the most relevant organic results appear at the top of the SERPs.
The further down the results pages organic results are pushed and the less obvious paid results become through changes like green identification, the less likely users are to click on organic links over paid. The additional impact of the rise in mobile search has made what might have been a longer trend, a very fast change.
Expect to spend more on search
Brands can expect a shift in traffic sources with paid search driving a greater share than organic. On some clients, we’re already seeing more than double the traffic (some up to 200%+!) from Paid Search and a significant decline in Organic traffic.
According to a report from Wordstream back in June, the change to the colour of the ‘ad’ identification resulted in a significant change in CTR for paid. It’s reasonable to expect that the combination of changes will amplify the impact considerably. Data from clients across all categories indicates an increase in CTR by around 10% – 20%.
What that means for brands is an increased need for budgets to be directed to paid search. The influence of quality scores on brands’ bids means that there will continue to be relevance in the top results and requires brands to maintain a focus on content development and ensuring their SEO optimisation continues.
Paid search is big business for Google
Based on its April financial results statements, eMarketer estimates Google will generate $47.5 billion from search ads in 2016 with revenues in this area growing at around 14% year-on-year. Using that as a basis and halving the increases we’re seeing across clients (50% increase) so far this year, Google stands to make an additional $15.2 billion off the back of what appear to be minor changes to SERPs!
The key trend for brands is that there’s no such thing as ‘free’. Especially when it comes to search.
This article was published originally at Linked In
Beau Curtis is a director of content and connections planning at MediaCom Australia